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Viva VOD

pike-fischer.jpgA new Pike and Fischer report predicts that Americans will spend a third of their television time watching on-demand programs by 2012. The definition of on-demand seems to mean specifically VOD from a cable, telecom or satellite operator, not Internet offerings.

I have to say I’m actually a little surprised.

With anecdotal evidence of VOD usage going up as much as 1000% in one year, I would think the amount of VOD watching would be higher in five years. I wonder how the study is factoring in DVR usage and online TV viewing. And what counts as VOD? Would Time Warner’s Start Over service qualify?

Place-Shifting Grows Up

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The recent acquisition of Sling by Echostar certainly suggests that the big guys in the biz value a little technology called place-shifting, and that the little guys still need big pockets to move their technology forward. So with the place-shifting market starting to mature, here’s a look at what has and hasn’t already been accomplished.

On the rights management side of things, content producers and distribution networks have worked out a series of tentative solutions. Television networks are starting to embrace online delivery (TV wherever you can get an Internet connection), but they vary widely in what shows they make available, as well as where you can access them, and whether they’re free or for purchase. Meanwhile, Motorola’s work with Verizon has satisfied the guardians of copyright in terms of in-home video networking with the Home Media DVR service. Analysts have called the service a breakthrough and a change agent, a feature that will spark other providers to offer similar functionality. (Sorry for the horn tooting)

The bandwidth required by place-shifting and TV viewing over the Internet has yet to create the storm of debate that is sure to come. As Google itself has said, the Internet is not ready for TV. And yet TV is coming to the Internet – streamed, syndicated and slung – so operators are trying to figure out how to support it. Will adoption move slowly enough to keep a bandwidth crunch at bay?

Finally, there’s the format war. No, I’m not talking about HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray, I’m talking about making video available in HD vs. SD, formatting for large displays vs. mobile screens, delivering analog vs. digital. In how many formats should operators reasonably store and deliver their shows? Will there be a master receiver/transcoder at some point so that any format will work no matter how or where you’re watching TV?

Now that place-shifting has gone past its infancy, it will be interesting to watch the move into late childhood and adolescence. The evolution will likely be less about shiny new toys, and more about making place-shifting work as a sustainable, revenue-generating business.

WiMax on Water

UPDATE: Motorola has won the WiMax World USA Industry Choice Award for the CPEi 800/850 Series Desktop CPE, a WiMax-ready broadband device for the home.

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Ars Technica put up a glowing review last night of Motorola’s mobile WiMax demonstration on the Chicago River. The demo took place on a short cruise during WiMax World where Motorola had a mini WiMax network set up. Press, analysts, marketing folks, etc. tried out laptops and mobile devices, testing connection speeds and various broadband applications. The verdict? A resounding, “We Want WiMax!” Sure beats EV-DO. Commercial availability is scheduled for next April under the Sprint-branded Xohm service.

Motorola’s had a huge presence at WiMax World this year and a number of WiMax-related announcements. Full press releases, white paper and video case studies available here, including a recorded demo of WiMax connectivity on the streets of Chicago.

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Update on Switched Digital Video

Resident expert on switched digital video (SDV), Bruce Bradley, gave a briefing last week to talk about the bandwidth implications of SDV, deployment timelines, and how the technology is likely to evolve. Here are my takeaways from the conversation:

On the bandwidth front, cost models are showing that SDV is the most efficient (read cheap) way to free up bandwidth in the 2007-2008 period. No wonder cable operators are so enthusiastic, and willing to find solutions to issues with one-way CableCARDs in retail devices. Operators can reclaim a projected 50% of bandwidth with the technology. That leaves a lot more room for more HDTV.

As far as deployment goes, 2008 is expected to be the big year. (No surprise there.) But, we’re talking about North America, not globally. By the time SDV starts rolling out in Asia and Europe, we may be into the next phase of the technology. Specifically switched unicast, which is designed to provide personalized video streams (and new revenue opportunities via targeted advertising). Switched unicast becomes feasible when the number of set-tops in a service group approaches a 1:1 ratio with the number of video streams being served. Today a lot of service groups contain around 1,000 users. To get closer to the 1:1 ratio, that number would have to be more like 250.

If you’re looking at a timeline of technologies, the order of events will probably go something like this: switched digital video, followed by SDV with a variable bit rate, then MPEG-4 (less immediately urgent for cable operators now), then switched unicast, and finally cable GPON deployments. Not everyone will follow the same timeline in every region, but SDV is the logical first step.

Motorola’s New MPEG-4/MPEG-2 Receiver

Motorola officially announced today the technology behind recent encoder deals with the launch of the DSR-6000 series of receiver-transcoders. Basically, the new technology can deliver content using either MPEG-4 AVC or MPEG-2 compression – an excellent solution given our varied video-delivery landscape.

Three points of interest:

  • For content folks this means a new ability to create material in one format (MPEG-4 or MPEG-2, in HD or SD) and rely on receivers to transcode the video depending on what operators need. Suddenly MPEG-4 is a lot more attractive because content producers know that everyone will receive their video, even if not everyone will see it with MPEG-4 compression. (Satellite operators have deployed MPEG-4 set-tops; others have not.)
  • Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth. The new Motorola receivers promise bandwidth savings of up to 75%. That comes from a combination of MPEG-4 compression and delivery via DVB-S2 modulated signals. (DVB-S2 is an enhanced satellite broadcasting spec.)
  • Cable won’t make the transition to MPEG-4 quickly, but the DSR-6400 series is creating a smoother migration path – one where cable won’t get shut out when networks like HBO launch 26 HD channels using MPEG-4.

UPDATE: Bob Larribeau saw a DSR-6000 demonstration and reports he saw no difference between regular MPEG-2 HD content and MPEG-2 HD content that had been transcoded from MPEG-4.